Wett Ones was the proud presenting partner for the Australian premiere of Light in the Water as part of the Queer Screen Mardi Gras Film Festival 2019.
About Light in the Water:
This inspiring, crowd-pleasing documentary lovingly recounts the origins of the West Hollywood Aquatic Club, or WH20. In 1982, a small team of dedicated non-professional swimmers began training for the inaugural Gay Games in San Francisco, creating a legacy of equality and inclusion that endures to this day. Using archival footage and extensive interviews, director Lis Bartlett paints an inspiring portrait of a tight-knit group of LGBTQ men and women who fought against homophobia in sport.
Opening remarks - Robert Hardie | President, Wett Ones Swimming Club
Wett Ones Swimming Club is delighted to be the presenting partner for the Australian premiere of Light in the Water. I want to thank Queer Screen for bringing this story to the screen during the 2019 Mardi Gras Film Festival.
No doubt inspired by the deeds of WH2O and other clubs around the world, in 1991 the Sydney Wet Ones were founded to provide a social swimming club for the local gay and lesbian community. Today, we are the oldest and largest gay and lesbian swimming club in Australia with more than 130 members. There might be more of us today than there were in 1991, but our mission remains the same.
Tonight we have some special guests here with us, including those who have been here since the club’s humble beginnings.
Firstly, Ron Kirchhoff, a WH2O founder – welcome to Sydney and thank you for all you did to begin this swimming revolution.
Please now join with me to acknowledge some of our founders who are here with us tonight – Janet Bolton, Wayne Sherson, Peter McGee and Jamie Cole. Together with Mi Weekes, Lyn Stanley, Bob McInnes, Cath Rogers, Vanessa Smith, Dave McGrath and Megan McLachlan, thank you for persisting with the Wett Ones and giving to us the legacy we share today.
Your dedication to the cause of gay and lesbian sports, particularly swimming, has made it easier for hundreds of men and women to participate confidently and with pride in sport. Our club owes you so much – I am going to go out on a limb and take the liberty of declaring that the Australian premiere of Light in the Water is dedicated to each of you.
Whether you’ve been a Wettie from day one, a Wettie for many years or a newbie, once you’re a Wett One you’re always a Wett One! Wett Ones is a family, a safe place for men and women with a shared passion for swimming to come together to swim, keep fit, compete and have fun.
Keep an eye out for us as we show Oxford St how to #swimlikeagirl. And If you’ve ever wondered what squad swimming is like, come and give it a go – there’s more information on your seats or come and speak to me afterwards.
Opening remarks - Ron Kirchhoff | Original member, West Hollywood Swim Club
It is an honor to be here and to share and celebrate Lis Bartlett’s wonderful documentary, LIGHT IN THE WATER, with an international audience. Like many of you, I will be seeing it for the first time in a theater since, in my case, I was working in the Middle East when it was made and first presented and I only heard of its existence when I opened up the online edition of THE GUARDIAN UK and saw myself on the front page—in a feature article about my teammates and the film she had made about us. Imagine my surprise—and delight!
n one level, LIGHT IN THE WATER could be described as a documentary about the founding of a Masters swim team in Los Angeles and its role in the development of an international gay and lesbian sports movement. On a larger level, it is also the story of a community in a time of transition and crisis and of how we worked with others to create a new, healthy and multicultural “queer identity” through sports, faith, courage, empathy and activism.
Founded to compete in the first Gay Olympic Games in San Francisco in 1982 and later transformed into an International Masters Swim Team, that LA team is now known as WH20 or “West Hollywood Aquatics”, and I am happy to say that it is thriving with a new generation of LGBT swimmers and water polo players and still going strong. It just competed in a 10th Gay Games in Paris in the summer of 2018 with a roster that included some of its founding members.
It was and remains an inclusive organization and welcomes people from different backgrounds.
I was one of those founding members of WH20, active between 1982 and 1990, and a medalist in each of the first 3 Gay Games (and IGLA Championships) before “life” (career and family responsibilities) took me into a different direction. Some of the people that you will meet in this film: Jim, Mike, Mauro and others—remain among my closest friends. We probably saved each other’s lives and certainly created a “family”—one which included doctors, lawyers, teachers, dry cleaners, investment bankers, Buddhists, Catholics, actors, Jews, porn stars and artists. We grieved together, swam together and loved together. Accordingly, I can speak to many of the issues that were part of that founding decade—which is the focus of much of this film.
Lis Bartlett is a current member of that team and has heard all the stories, thus making her the perfect person to create this film.
I would ask you to remember that the world was very different in 1982 and remind you that you are the proud children of this movement.
Our medals from those first games had the word “Olympic” defaced from them—under court order (for copyright violation thanks to the US Olympic Organizing Group which had never had a problem with the use of that word for other groups). All memorabilia for those games were similarly defaced and destroyed, but Elizabeth Taylor sent us a telegram thanking us for our participation. I will never forget reading that in the car to our first events—still basking in the afterglow of an opening ceremony that included Tina Turner as a concert act and Rita Mae Brown, Amistad Maupin and Gay Games founder, Dr. Tom Waddell, as the key note speakers.
After our “entrance”, I remember standing near the stage and talking with the speakers, saying, “Remember when you thought you were the only one?” and Miss Brown used that her in her address to the crowd.
We were joined by thousands in the stands of Kezar Stadium in the Castro—along with the breathtaking presence of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on roller skates and Sistah Boom, a bare-breasted East Bay lesbian conga line-- weaving their way through the crowds. Discrimination was active in that year, but it was banished from our world on that wonderful afternoon when we danced until sunset and the fog rolled in.
4 years later—in 1986, we returned to San Francisco for the 2nd Games. AIDS had decimated the city and the Tom Waddell was dying, but we carried on—with 3 times more athletes than the first games. For further background, remember that 1986 was the year in which ANGELS IN AMERICA was set—and the world was full of Roy Cohns.
In 1990, Vancouver became the first city outside the United States to host this celebration and 10,000 athletes participated. We were established—and teams like Team Seattle, Team NY and Team SF had been joined by a huge contingent from 5 continents—with gay men’s choruses, religious groups, cyclists (Spokesmen), runners (Front Runners) and bowling groups now a part of the mix. We had survived and were bearing witness.
LIGHT IN THE WATER is an essential document of those years—and something I treasure. I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I do.
I’ll be happy to answer any questions that you might have at the end of the screening.